tv Dateline NBC NBC August 22, 2011 2:00am-3:00am PDT
a single mom and her kids facing challenges in a house that just wasn't a home. >> mom, we're stuck. >> struggling with a series of setbacks. >> we would pray just give us strength to get through this. >> a stranger heard their prayer. >> i'm like we're going to help this family some way. >> an ambitious idea to make over their house. >> i'm looking for a hero. >> in this small town slammed by recession, everyone was suffering. >> it's difficult right now. >> but something surprising happened. an entire town found the time
and found itself. parents, kids, bikers, the entire basketball team. >> oh, my god! >> they all came giving and getting far more than anyone expected. >> we're going to do it for absolutely nothing. >> can i hug you? >> then a setback. >> we're running out of time right now. >> would they still be able to pull off a miracle? >> life is is butt a circle touched by many hands. >> this is better than a dream come true. >> america now: a circle of hands. >> america now: a circle of hands. a "dateline" special. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening. i'm ann curry. many towns have struggled in the past few years. what's special about the people of this community is what some
would see as adversity, they saw as opportunity. everyone from girl scouts to architects, bankers to bikers rose above their own adversity to help a family. and in the process they became one. >> financial crisis has people worried about they job security and future prospects. >> president elect obama says the country must act swiftly and boldly to deal with the economic crisis. >> for most of the country, november 2008 was just another bleak month in recession time america. grafton, wisconsin, was no exception. >> let's hear it for the longoria family! >> but for the people in this small blue collar town north of milwaukee, november 2008 will be remembered as the month when despite their own troubles, they gave hope to an extraordinary family. and by doing so gave hope to themselves. >> if you have received so much
more than you gave, i want you to raise your hand again. >> how do you say thank you to the thousands of people? i mean, this changed our whole life. >> for karen longoria, it all began 15 years ago when she went into labor five months prematurely. >> you gave birth to -- >> quads. >> quadruplets. >> and one lived six days. they told us she was the healthiest. that's when it got really scary. >> are you going to say hi to the world? hi, world. >> the triplets stayed in the neonatal unit for five months. kylie was the only child that didn't have a disability.
>> she had to quit her job to take care of the kids. >> there he is. >> then just as her children celebrated their first birthday, karen's marriage broke up. when megan, tyler, and kylie were ten years old, karen sold her how the and bought a new one in grafton, wisconsin. this was to be a new beginning. a homecoming. >> i grew up here. so i knew what it was like. i was proud of myself that i could move here and buy a home and provide for my family. and i thought oh, i'm doing better. >> but just months after moving into their little ranch house on acorn street, karen noticed her son wasn't doing so well. >> i was trying to figure out what was going on with tyler because he was getting weaker and weaker and i knew something was wrong. >> the diagnosis was as unexpected as it was heart breaking.
tyler didn't just have cerebral palsy, he also is sma. a rare degenerative disease that weakens the muscles used for walking, standing, eating, and eventually breathing. and another blood test confirmed what karen already suspected. megan had sma too. >> it was hard to hear that sma diagnosis and kind of process what it will mean for the future. and as they get older, i have to be realistic. they're just going to get weaker. and i don't know how fast. >> go, kylie! >> kylie never thought twice about leading a life without any physical limitations. now for the first time, she felt guilty. >> i feel like why were they born with this disability and i wasn't? it's like it's not fair. it's not fair they have to go through life like that and i don't have to.
>> kylie helped where she could. she learned how to prepare tyler's feeding tube. and cared for megan after she had back surgery. >> do you sometimes get angry? >> sometimes. >> about what? >> i can't bend down and help pick up stuff. >> what do you wish you could do? >> i wish i can walk without braces. >> at daily therapy sessions, megan was fighting her disease with all she had. for tyler, just climbing into bed every night was a two-minute struggle. but he insisted on doing it on his own.
>> but to keep going at home was becoming more and more difficult. by the time tyler and megan were 13, they were mostly confined to wheelchairs and the house in which the family had hoped to begin a new life was not built to accommodate kids with sma. >> mom, we're stuck. >> this house just didn't work with two wheelchairs in it. it's so small and compact. it's hard for them to roll on the carpets. >> karen wanted to make life easier for her children. help them become more independent. but how? renovating the house to make it accessible was out of the question. her income as a teacher was barely enough to make mortgage and necessities. >> we pray together as a family to say give us the strength to get through this. >> but life wasn't done testing this family.
just two months after she found out her kids had sma, karen woke up with a pain in her chest. >> i found out i had cancer. i said no. i can't have it. i'm too busy. but i did. >> what followed was a masectomy, two rounds of chemo, radiation. but karen said none of the pain compared to the unbearable feeling she couldn't be there for her children the way she wanted. the fear she might not be there at all. >> you know, i sometimes think that god gave me cancer just so i could feel what they feel every day. and it put things in perspective how hard it is for them. >> did raising them and helping them get through their illness help you deal with cancer? did they teach you how to face
cancer? >> just that each day is a new day. >> there would be a new day. one that karen and her kids, this whole town in fact, couldn't even foresee. and led by a man karen had never even met. coming up, how a stranger became a savior. >> i'm like we're going to help this family some way. >> the ambitious idea that would not only transform karen's life but an entire community. when "america now: a circle of hands" continues. when a carpet is clean and fresh, it's irresistible. experience this in your home with resolve deep clean powder. its moist powder penetrates deep, removing three times more dirt than vacuuming alone while also neutralizing odors at their source. it's a clean you can see, smell, and really enjoy.
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it's party time at the longoria household. but daily reality for 13-year-old tyler and his sister megan is not all song and dance. there is rarely a smile at weekly therapy sessions. >> lifting her head up is hard. >> but that's good she can do it. >> after aggressive chemotherapy, karen has a chance to beat her cancer. but she knows there is no such possibility for her children. their condition sma is irreversible. when karen got cancer, her family and friends rallied around her and the kids and a group of college students decided to raise money for the family.
the students filmed the longorias and showed the footage of tyler climbing into bed to jim kacmarcik the owner of a metal stamping business that encourages young adults to do more for their community. >> i didn't understand what i was looking at. i was like what is this? i thought he was sitting there praying. when i understood what i was watching with my eyes, i'm like we're going to help this family some way. >> jim first turned to neil wilenson, a friend and ceo of a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children effected by aids. >> how could we not act? how much more can a family bear? >> hey, guys. i'm ty. >> neil thought their story made them a match for the extreme makeover home edition show. but the show decided to help another family.
karen and the kids were disappointed, but jim was not. >> karen getting turned down by the home makeover show i think was a blessing. i was kind of happy. i was happy because i knew we were going to do the same type of thing a different way. >> it was an idea jim and neil called hometown heros. a grand vision in which hundreds of local volunteers would gut the house and make every feature in every room wheelchair accessible. they would double the living space without knocking down an exterior wall, turn the unfinished basement into a therapy room for megan and tyler. and install an elevator to take them there. their vision had a big price tag. $150,000. but not only did jim and neil believe their community could raise the money to cover the cost, they thought the volunteers could finish the renovation in time for the
longorias to have thanksgiving dinner in their home. that was only two months away. >> my real dreams were let's try to get everybody that wants to help some way, give them a shot to help. because people want to help. >> but in grafton like in most of the u.s., the financial crisis had hit home. unemployment in this middle class stronghold had doubled from the year before. many families were experiencing hardship for the very first time. >> people when they don't have money, when they're worried about their jobs, when they're fearful about their own financial security, that sometimes is the last time they want to donate to somebody else having trouble. >> i think that's a great opportunity. i think that's -- this is a great time to donate. i think in the toughest of times, that's what brings out the best in people. >> just hands on. i don't know how many people are coming. >> october 20th, 2008, five weeks before thanksgiving, the
first official hometown heros meeting at jim's factory. present a group of contractors and community organizers who've agreed to donate their services. >> there's no doubt we're going to fulfill the major mission which is really making a better place to live for this family. >> but that's easier said than done as the builders realize when they meet with an expert who specialized in constructions for the handicapped. >> i'm looking at this entrance and coming up there's steps and steps. is there a way to just gradually slope the walk around to make it come level with the house? >> that's a really good idea. i agree. >> tom bartland knows the work at hand is immense. >> it's a very big project to do in 20 days or 30 days. it's going to be a big task. >> first step, recruit enough volunteers to help the
professionals pull it off. >> tyler and megan are in wheelchairs and without a medical miracle, it's going to be hard for them to walk. i'm going to give you guys an opportunity to be hometown heros. are you in? all right. that's cool. thank you very, very much. >> next find the family a place to live for at least a month. julie ship hopes she can get a deal at a hotel. >> it would cost us a hundred dollars a night to accommodate. >> the room tax and everything. so we're going to do it for absolutely nothing. >> nothing? >> yeah. >> can i hug you? oh, my gosh. that is so generous. thank you so much. >> karen and the kids, meanwhile, have no idea what's in store for them. >> the one thing that i told karen was that we will redo your floors and widen your doors. and that's all we promised. >> but that is far more than
karen had ever expected. >> it was unreal. you don't think it's going to happen that there are people out there that's so giving to strangers. >> what would you be happy with? what's enough for you? >> enough would be the floors. >> the plan is to have a surprise ceremony from the longoria house in a couple days to mark the beginning of the renovation. that is if enough people show up. only a handful of volunteers have officially signed up so far. jim goes to a radio station to report a last stitch appeal. >> let's bring the whole community together. now's your chance. let's work together to make a special thanksgiving for this family. >> a message from the heart. the question is will it touch the hearts of others? the answer to that will surprise everyone. especially karen's kids. >> oh, my god! >> a town turns out when
what was first just an idea has now become a rallying cry for a town to come together to help a neighbor in need. the challenge to recruit enough neighbors to renovate an entire house by thanksgiving. grafton doesn't know it yet, but this will be much more than a simple construction project. october 28th, moveout day. >> i think the secret is out a bit. i think karen might know that today is the day. but she has no idea what we're doing. she doesn't know there's a stage in her front yard. the kids don't know today is the day. it'll be cool. >> neil wonders whether they did enough to attract a crowd, let alone volunteers to help renovate the house. julie has invited karen and the
kids to her place to keep them away from the house. the kids' classmates and then friends and family and then more people, almost 400. many of them have never met the longoria family before. >> wow. there's a lot of people here. i really thought there'd be 50 or a hundred people here. i'm an optimist, but this is beyond my expectation. it's unbelievable. >> 5:00 p.m. the longorias are on their way. >> they're coming! >> oh, my god! >> let's hear it for them! >> oh, my god! >> let's hear it for karen! and kylie! and tyler! and megan! we are going to widen your doors. and we are going to give you new
floors. but we're going to do a whole lot more. and it's going to be great. >> i just want to say thank you. >> you're a proud person. and you have done a lot on your own. and you didn't ask for this. were there moments you were just uncomfortable with this whole idea? >> yes. because it's hard to get so much and we felt like we weren't giving back any. >> sometimes you have to just surrender. >> right. and we did. it was hard, but we did. >> i know today that so many people are struggling. i know that many people can't afford gasoline, can't afford food, things are tough. so today in very tough,
challenging times, i'm looking for a hero. are you out there? are you willing to join? >> the applause notwithstanding, jim knows it's one thing to show up for a ceremony, but how many will actually show up for work. he's about to find out. jim and neil ask karen and the kids not to come by the house until the renovation is done. as the family moves into the hotel, the first volunteers arrive on site. >> we're under construction. no more meeting. >> four weeks before thanksgiving, day one. phase one. demolition. interior walls, the outdoor deck and fences, appliances, cabinets, old carpet, everything has to go. workers slow down when they get to a wall the kids painted when they first moved into the house. >> we're going to save this because it has sentimental value and try to make something else
out of it. >> back at headquarters, volunteers are signing up. 70 by the end of the first day alone. here's one of them. danny albers. if you've had any preconception about harley riding bikers in leather jackets, throw them out the window. >> i'm from grafton, born and raised here. and the community has always been helping each other. one guy falls down, the other guy helps him up. it's been that way since i was little. >> harley guy as danny is known around the house works the afternoon shift at a local motorcycle factory often past midnight. >> but i'm here in the morning. long days, but you do it. you make it work. >> 21 days to go. thanksgiving is getting closer. and so is wisconsin's feared winter. today danny is assigned to help build a new backyard deck.
mother nature is threatening to derail the project but danny and a few others are fighting back. >> this here is the last screw of about 1500 screws in this deck. [ cheers ] >> a new deck, new basement, new floors. and the plan is to buy new appliances next week. not to mention the elevator jim and neil have been dreaming about. it all costs money. more money than they've raised so far. to stay on schedule, grafton needs to turn it up a notch. >> trick or treat. >> even the little ones. >> we're also raising money for the longoria family. >> we're making these cookies because people are making mrs. longoria's house bigger and pretty. >> we are having a luncheon in order to raise money for the hometown hero program. >> we're doing a bit of a fund
raiser. each teacher came up with stunts to raise money for the longoria family. >> the principal of megan and tyler's middle school promises to kiss a cow if he raises more money than his teachers. usually the profit's from christine's pumpkin sales go into her college account. but this year she's giving it to the longoria family. >> it would not bother me at all if they never knew i did it. as long as the money goes towards them and their great cause. that's all that matters to me. >> thank you, so much. >> the surrounding towns are getting in on the action too. [ cheering ] hard cash is rolling into headquarters. people have given what money they can. but some have no money to give.
and if you knew their personal stories, you'd think helping others would be the last thing on their minds. and you'd be wrong. this father of two lost his job. >> it's a little difficult right now. >> and found a mission. but will a possible setback mean missing a thanksgiving deadline? >> little bit of a curve ball. >> when "america now: a circle of hands" continues. i'm a film star. well, i'm a film, left behind by a floor cleaner i thought was going to take me places. wait! now life is dull... darling! ♪ i believe in miracles [ male announcer ] swiffer attracts dirt. swiffer wetjet's new upgraded solution loosens and lifts off dirt to help prevent streaks and residue. and reveal more shine than a mop or your money back. you had me at "bzzzzz".
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outside they're working on the new driveway. members of the local college football team have become landscapers. inside the house, blue is the base color of choice. carpenters are installing a new wood floor in one room. and rolling out the carpet in another. and there it is. the elevator. karen's not allowed to go by the house. so she should have no idea about the amazing transformation to her home. but this is a small town. people talk. >> on the local news, i did hear about the elevator. >> darn news reporters. they blow the secrets every time. what does that mean to you to know that all these people are working to make you happy? >> it makes me cry. i mean, just the good in all the people that wanted to help.
>> karen finds ways to show her gratitude. today's assignment for her first grade class, thank you notes for the construction crew. one of her friends sneaks in the house at night and plasters the cards all over the walls. two weeks done, two weeks to go. despite working a time job, harley guy danny albers hasn't missed a day yet. >> the first graders, they were just you know good luck. i hope i grow up to be like you. it makes you feel good inside. >> the kitchen cabinets have arrived. ron in the red cap is volunteering today for the first time. >> it's been a great experience so far. i was going to leave early, but not know. i plan on helping as long as i can. >> ron, a divorced father of two lost his job as a branch manager for a local bank two months ago. since then he's applied for more
than a hundred positions, but so far nothing. >> the feeling of not going to work every day after working for so many years, it's very disheartening. >> but as ron finds out, he's not the only unemployed volunteer at the house. >> what did you do, mike? >> i left my job went to work for a nonprofit and then they ended up cutting off the funding. >> mike is out of work too. they've taken out a home equity loan to not go under. the caterers for the workers will have to close their restaurant after christmas. >> my hope and prayers is all these communities will come together with a common purpose. >> and neil, one of the leaders of hometown heros is also
weathering this storm. donations for his organization a way down. he's had to lay off staff and cut his own salary by 40%. he'll have to borrow money from his life insurance to make ends meet. >> people suffering, i can experience that. but it doesn't get us off the hook of engaging. >> it takes courage not to know where your income is going to come from and look at things you love possibly falling apart and still give. that takes courage. >> it does. it takes a lot of courage. once you do it, you keep on doing it. >> a lot of it's damaged. >> back at the house, a small crisis. most of the donated wooden floors are damaged and need to be replaced. it's ten days before thanksgiving. >> we're running out of time right now. we can't afford any other setbacks. we're getting a whole house
floored in 24 hours, it's certainly not undoable, but a bit of a curveball we didn't expect. >> ron is back for another day, but without his usual energy. and it's easy to understand why. ron is helping to build the longoria's home, but he's about to lose his. >> i'm moving in with one of my sisters in order to make ends meet. it's a little difficult right now. used to have a home. but i'll get there. god wouldn't put a burden on my shoulders that he doesn't think i can carry. >> about a week later, ron moves the little he owns into a spare bedroom at his sister's house.
>> the next day, he volunteers for another shift. for ron and others like him, this house on acorn street is not just a mission anymore. it's a refuge. >> i'm doing it to help someone who's in worse off shape than i am right now. but it's definitely helping my mind keeping me from spiraling downward. >> there are people who perhaps more than anyone understand the pain and difficulties karen and the kids have had to endure. they, too, have come to help. and found more than they ever expected. coming up, how helping to build a room for tyler helped build this mom back up after her own tragedy. >> that was the first time in 19 years that i didn't feel pain. i just felt joy. >> when "dateline" continues. ♪
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the economic meltdown that is touching every part of the u.s. after almost four weeks, life in a hotel is losing its luster. >> we've had enough togetherness time. we need to spread out and have some of our own space. they've been really good here, but it's time to get back home. >> karen and the kids are excited and nervous. home they know will be very different. >> maybe i won't have to do this for them all the time now. they'll be able to roll into their own bathroom and get their own toothbrushes. >> if there is anyone who really understands the independence that tyler desperately wants, it's his friend and classmate bryce. nothing can stop him from helping his parents serve lunch to the volunteers. not even cerebral palsy.
he says tell me what my bedroom is. if your surprise is your house, then you should be surprised when you come home. i hope tyler's ready to have a jaw jack on him. it's a metaphor. his jaw will drop and he'll need a jack to pick it up. >> his participants hope to maybe a surprise. >> when julie told me they were redoing the house, i said we have to make quilts for everybody. my sister is a stage four breast cancer survivor. and so that's -- you know, that's part of the story. >> karen has breast cancer and she's going through it right now. i know what it's like to go through it. and i want her to wrap up in
this quilt and just to feel that there are people out there who care about her and love her and that can survive what she's going through. >> it is these little details that will turn the longoria's house into a home. remember that wall? the one the kids painted when they first moved into the house? steve kiddleson is using parts of it in a graft table he's making for the family. the photographers have hung the family portrait above the fire place. a muralist is painting a dolphin on the bathroom wall. jim and neil is shopping for a massage chair for karen. they have to try it out first, of course. >> you buy me one? >> and cindy, an interior designer is hard at work giving tyler's room that personal touch.
>> we took all of his favorite things and kind of rolled it up into one package. we hope he likes it. >> but there's something deeper motivated cindy. she didn't want to reveal it at first. maybe because it is so painful. >> i had lost a little boy named tyler. and i just really felt like that was a calling. that i really -- my place was to help this little tyler. >> it was almost 20 years ago when cindy's tyler died of an infection shortly after birth. she went on to have four more children, all girls. but the pain of losing her son never went away, she says. until now. >> i did feel him with me during this whole project. for the first time, it didn't hurt when i thought of my tyler. you know? and that was the first time in 19 years that i didn't feel pain. i just felt joy.
>> the house is finally ready. transformed and two days ahead of schedule. just a little more cleaning to be done. harley guy danny albers was one of the first to arrive at the house 28 days ago. and he's one of the last to leave. he's volunteered here every single day. >> if i had more money or resources, i'd probably do more for them. but i do what i can do and hopefully that's good enough. >> danny will be here one more day. tomorrow when karen and the kids
come home. coming up, a homecoming like no other. as an entire community feels love and inside not a dry eye in the new house. >> this is better than a dream come true. >> when "america now: a circle come true. >> when "america now: a circle of hands" contin when someone gives blood and a life is saved, that moment when heartbreak turns to hope, you're there through the american red cross. every day, the red cross responds to nearly 200 neighborhood emergencies. and your support makes it possible. use this moment to join us today. visit redcross.org.
i'm packing up. we're about three hours away from going to see our new house. they say happier times are even more happy because you've had some hard times. and not that you want hard times, but i think that's true. because we've had some really hard times. so when it's time to be happy, you need to be really happy.
>> november 25th, 2008. 800 people welcome the longorias back home. >> let's hear it for the longoria family! they're back after one month away. they'll see the house for the very first time. >> i think i started crying. i mean, it was just overwhelming. just walking in this kitchen and seeing that wall taken out. >> it's beautiful! >> this is what karen's kitchen looked like the last time she saw it. and now. >> it was like a dream. are we really walking into our house? is this really our house? >> just a month ago, it took tyler two minutes to climb into
bed. he won't have to struggle now that it's much lower to the ground. >> what do you think big guy? >> whoa! >> tyler look! >> in her old room, megan could barely roll across the carpet. not anymore. >> wow! >> thank you. >> you deserve it. >> oh, wow. thank you. >> in an odd way i kind of tried to not really become too close to this family because it's hard to kind of let go. >> this is so cool! >> we're watching tyler's face and the smiles. how can you not help but fall in love with this family? and i have.
>> that's it. we're done! >> i saw the elevator. >> that's a storage space. >> yeah right. >> a storage space. that's what the basement was when the family left the house. now wooden beams have given way to a brand new therapy room and an elevator to take the kids there. >> welcome to your new downstairs. here's a treat for you. watch this. >> megan, i'm curious. at times i thought you were angry. so when you see all these people love your family, love your mother, love you you don't even know them. >> it makes me feel blessed. blessed that everyone's doing this for us. >> megan and tyler's future is uncertain at best. so far there is no cure for sma.
and they will likely get weaker in the years to come. but neil believes that the kindness they witnessed this past month will give them strength to fight this disease. >> tyler and megan want to live. so at the end of this, forget the house. forget the plasma screens. if this project gives them renewed hope and purpose, that's something. that's heroic. >> there is one more room to see. a room that didn't exist a month ago. a sanctuary set for karen alone. complete with a massage chair and that craft table. >> that's the room! look. >> now it's in the table. >> this entire story is in that table. in the form of a poem steve wrote and carved into a wooden circle. >> a circle of hands.
life is but a circle touch bid many hands. held in check by love where we stand. some lives are touched in special ways by unforeseen demands. and yet relief is offered by the joining of our hands. little hands that work and little hands that play. bigger hands that care and those many hands that pray. hands that touch a heart or stroke a child's hair. hands that leave a mark on walls in a moment meant to share. a community of love embraces these hands here on display. in this moment shared in time intended to embrace you every day. >> they needed to raise $150,000 to renovate karen's house. the people of grafton and surrounding towns donated almost $50,000 more. they needed hundreds of
volunteers to do the job. more than a thousand walked through the doors. but hometown hero's greatest achievement is the struggling had given a town what it did not expect. hope and inspiration. >> for anyone involved in any way. i don't care what you did, i want you to raise your hand right now. i want you to keep your hand up if you met a stranger along the way. and i want you to keep your hand up if you felt the love. if you have received so much more than you gave by being involved in this hometown heros project, i want you to raise your hand again. >> it's kind of a feeling i'm getting that you may have needed this community but i'm getting
the impression this community needed you. >> wow. that's an honor to us. >> you guys have been great. this is better than a dream come true. because our whole community supported us and helped us and inspired us. you guys are totally awesome. thank you for your love and support and thank you for making our house a home. >> since we brought you this story last year, kylie, megan, and tyler willing have all entered high school. megan and tyler continue to battle spinal muscular atrophy. they all love their new home. meantime the hometown hue rows
have renovated another family house. that's all for now, i'm ann curry. thanks for joining us. this sunday, president obama looking like candate obama on a bus tour through the heartland, previewing the comi fights. >> we've got a lot of work to do. and the only way it'll get done is if democrats and republicans, country ahead of party, and put the next generation ahead of the next election. >> the president promises another jobs plan. but is it too a little too late foramericans? and the president's re-election hopes. with us, one of the president's closest confidants. former white house press secretary pb now an adviser for the obama re-election campaign, robert gibbs. plus -- >> i think the greatest threat
to your country right now is this president who's trying to spin our way out of this disaster. >> why are so many republicans still searching? what's the gop plan for jobs? we'll talk to a man who considered getting into the race, indiana's governor and former budget director to president george w. bush, mitch daniels. then, wall street's wild swings. the world economy once again on the brink. what's on the horizon? can the president win re-election in this economy? our roundtable weighs in. former democratic congressman from tennessee harold ford jr. columnist for the "wall street journal," peggy noon. e.j. dionne. and host of cnbc's "closing bell," maria bartiromo. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good morning.